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Brace Yourselves

In the bottom of the second inning last night, the umpires made R.A. Dickey cut two small friendship bracelets off the wrist of his glove hand — bracelets his daughters had given to him in January, before he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Yes really.

My suspicions — and those of probably every other Mets fan — immediately focused on Dusty Baker, with some folks on Twitter noting that such gamesmanship could be payback for the Mets complaining about Mat Latos’s loose pockets last night.

But no, that would have made too much sense — Baker was apparently innocent. (Though not of being annoying and destroying young pitchers’ arms.) Suspicions next fell on the umpires — and, for a moment, I wondered about the conspiracy theory making the rounds in the Mets clubhouse that the team doesn’t get close calls because MLB’s umps are still steamed about Sandy Alderson trying to make them accountable more than a decade ago. I haven’t put much stock in the Mets’ musings — their real problem is that they’re not very good — but for a moment you had to wonder. After all, it’s true that MLB’s umps are a childish, cosseted bunch whose performance this year has been dreadful to the point of absurdity. Seriously: You can now watch a week of baseball and be pretty certain to see three or four painfully bad blown calls. We’re headed inevitably for replay, and not just because it effectively already exists in every modern park and is making its way onto fans’ phones. We’re headed that way because MLB’s umps are now so routinely incompetent that ultimate oversight of the game needs to be taken out of their hands.

But supposedly the umps weren’t to blame either — it was MLB, enforcing some absurd ticky-tack rule, and of course doing so selectively. (Here [1], for instance, is Felix Hernandez post-perfecto with something on his wrist that presumably would have sent last night’s home-plate ump James Hoye to his fainting couch.)

It’s enough to make the blood boil, but honestly, who cares? Someone was being stupid. Dickey was pissed about it, and justifiably so. But as he admitted later, he just wasn’t very good. That’s no sin, particularly not in a 15-4 campaign — R.A. is basically the only reason to watch this moribund club stagger toward the day when they’re told they can stop playing baseball. But he wasn’t exactly compelling viewing last night, as about a billion feet worth of Cincinnati home runs more than demonstrated.

Terry Collins was pissed about the bracelets too, but he looked a lot more pissed about other things — like his vanished offense, or the general air of depressing dead-assedness that’s settled over his club like an endless hangover. The Mets are horrible right now, they’ve been horrible since the All-Star break, and this is the fourth year in a row that they’ve been horrible in the second half. That’s a bad pattern whether you’re plotting a return to contention (perhaps we should aim for relevance first) or trying to sell tickets. Once upon a time, Fred Wilpon was mocked for wanting to see meaningful games in September. I never thought that was as crazy as everybody else did, but jeez — right now “meaningful games in September” seems like a pipe dream. Meaningful games in August would be novel.

Oh, and here are the Mets themselves [2], after tonight’s loss: “Baxter, Tejada each collect two hits in loss to Reds.” Not mentioned: That those were the only four hits the Mets had. Or that they endured a 6-1 pasting [3] in which the only run scored on a double play that short-circuited the inning. I believe this is what’s known as trying to polish a turd, and I really wish the Mets would stop embarrassing themselves and us with stuff like this. Right now there are 25 guys taking care of that already.

Sigh. I’ll leave you with this: In the top of the second, before Braceletgate turned tragedy into farce, Jordany Valdespin hit a twisting pop into the seats between home and the third-base dugout. As fans windmilled their arms and leaped about, a woman in a Mets t-shirt calmly flicked out her hand and caught the ball. No drama, no fuss — it was pretty damn cool.

It was also easily the most impressive thing someone wearing a Mets shirt did all night.